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No Joy in Stadiumville

Right now, this entrance to the capital's core is formless and nameless. The nearest Metro stop is called Navy Yard, but the Navy Yard is not exactly neighborly, being a sealed government compound, a warren of buildings behind walls and gates. People who live and work on the footprint of the projected stadium sometimes call their neighborhood "Southeast," but that's rather inexact, since "Southwest" is just across South Capitol. Gallagher's commission wants to "rebrand" the area. An advisory report by the Urban Land Institute even suggested a name: SoCap.

Kind of like SoHo.

Robert Siegel will be one of the entrepreneurs affected by the creation of a new baseball stadium in D.C. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

Gallagher quickly backed off from SoCap when a reporter mentioned it. The name should arise through "more of an organic decision," she said.

So far much of the organic response to the stadium plan has been hostile. Baseball returning to Washington after 33 years has become mired in tax disputes, political grievances, opportunism and grandstanding. The D.C. Council is expected to approve a $400 million-plus stadium (the projected cost keeps going up), but in the meantime there are protests, shouting matches at public hearings and marathon council meetings. Thursday's meeting featured more than 200 witnesses.

Patricia Ghiglino, director of a sculpture studio on the projected stadium site, waited all day and finally got her chance at the microphone at 10:30 p.m. Like Bob Siegel, she feels bulldozed by the whole process, and insulted.

"How do you think you'd feel if someone comes and takes your property and says this is good for the neighborhood?" she says.

The issue of gentrification is shot through with racial politics. Some activists see the baseball stadium as part of "The Plan." "The Plan" is an idea that has been around for decades. The fear is that white elites want to seize black-owned properties and make the District a majority-white city again.

"Gentrification is racist. There's no other way to see it," Howard University student Caneisha Mills said outside the meeting.

City officials say their proposals include more than 1,000 units of "affordable housing" near the stadium. The mayor has pledged $400 million for improving neighborhoods around the city. Activists aren't satisfied.

"We don't want to go the way of San Francisco or Boston, where people who work in the city can't afford to live in the city," said John More, co-chair of the Washington Interfaith Network.

Already, countless workers endure long commutes from the suburbs so that they can clean hotel rooms or run the registers at grocery stores. And so Timothy Tilghman, an organizer with the interfaith network, poses a basic question:

"Who is the city for?"

Someday this part of town may be like Baltimore's Inner Harbor, with a baseball stadium and a soccer stadium, the requisite Banana Republic, a restaurant with a name like CrabWorks or Steakapalooza, and outdoor cafes selling handcrafted farmhouse-style microbrewed pale ale. A destination. Musicians at the top of the Metro escalators. Searchlights, big events, a sense that now you're where the action is.

For now it's a very different place, a jumble. A closed liquor store serves as an eyesore on M Street, but when you walk out of the Navy Yard Metro you see a gleaming new office building with one of those 1990s-sounding defense-contractor names: Anteon.

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